Don’t think for a minute that fishing slows down just because January is the beginning of the heart of winter. Like crappie expert Paul Johnson always said, “Fish gotta eat, no matter what.”
That’s true of bass, crappie, catfish, speckled trout, redfish.… You name it, “Fish gotta eat.” That said, here are five hot spots fishermen should try this month:
- Barnett Reservoir
Whether you chase catfish, bass or crappie, this central Mississippi lake near Jackson has plenty. That the lake is in a drawdown to fight an outbreak of the invasive plant giant salvinia won’t impact fishing. Crappie were being caught in pretty good numbers in early December in depths of 7 to 8 feet and in deeper water: 10 or 12 feet down to 30 or more. That won’t last, and cold temperatures will push fish deeper. Bass fishing is a bit tougher, but on warm days, the largemouth will be aggressive and can be found in schools blasting on the surface in the backwater areas upriver. Spotted bass can be readily caught in the river on deep sandbar points on drop-shot rigs in at least 10 feet of water. Oddly enough, the best catfish days on Barnett are on the coldest days, and the best fishing is from the bank. Shad get caught shallow and the cold temperatures kill them. Catfish move up and feast.
- Tenn-Tom Waterway
Trophy catfish anglers love the Tenn-Tom pools of Columbus and Aberdeen in the heart of winter. According to local experts, December through February is the peak season for big blues and flatheads, mainly because the cold weather concentrates them in deep holes in the river. With little to no current, target flathead catfish with live bait in deep, standing timber. Target blue catfish in times of moderate to heavy current. Blues will relate to the channel, but they will move up on the nearby flats, often as shallow as 3 to 4 feet, and feed heavily. Another good spot for blues is the tailrace area, extending about 2 miles down from the locks and dams.
- Okhissa Lake
Bass fishermen have fallen in love with this big Homochitto National Forest Lake near Bude, especially in the winter when fish move to the upper end of the lake and coves. You find fish in other areas — like along the dam on suspending jerkbaits — but for numbers and size, find the deeper water in those coves. One excellent pattern is fishing the edges of the main creek-channel on the upper end of the lake with a drop-shot worm. That’s a numbers game, with lots of fish in the 1½- to 3-pound range. For bigger fish, pick those warmer days and find points and banks where the creek channel comes closest. Then, try big shaky head worms, slow-moving swim baits and suspending jerkbaits.
- Eagle Lake
This one is strictly for crappie fishermen, especially those who know how to catch both white crappie and black crappie. Eagle has plenty of both, and in good size. Three-pounders are not rare there. For white crappie, hunt suspended schools in the deep outer curve of the lake, the Mississippi side. They will be suspended somewhere between 10 and 15 feet in at least 20 feet of water. Modern electronics have made it easier to pinpoint big schools. Trolling with minnows or jig-minnow combinations works. For black crappie, look under the fishing piers on the outside curve — and don’t always think deep. Local experts know that a jig fished 2 to 3 feet deep often catches the biggest “specks” in the lake.
- Bay of St. Louis
Saltwater fishermen on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast are probably tired of seeing this — especially those who have already mastered it and like keeping it to themselves — but some of the best fishing of the year is in January along the US 90 bridge pilings in the Bay of St. Louis, where the Jourdan River meets the Gulf. Those pilings concentrate several species, including some of the best-tasting fish on the coast — red and black drum and sheepshead. Fish downstream on a falling tide and upstream on a rising tide, or just fish right up against the piling on either side. The key is keeping the bait as close to the cement piling as possible. Dead bait shrimp is good enough, and maintain a good tight line so you can feel bites on the fall.